The past few years have been incredibly interesting in the Light Flyweight division, without the division managing to get the attention it's deserved. One of the most notable results of recent years was the 2021 upset win scored by Jonathan Gonzalez (25-3-1-1, 14), over Elwin Soto to claim the WBO title. This coming Friday we'll see Gonzalez return to the ring for the first time since that win, as he defends his title against talented Filipino challenger Mark Anthony Barriga (11-1, 2), who gets his second shot at a world title, in Florida.
The 31 year old champion was long seen as a special fighter. He had been a stellar amateur with "Bomba" winning gold at the 2008 Youth World Championships, as well winning the Central American & Caribbean Games Gold, in 2010, and winning the Puerto Rican National championships 3 years in a row, 08, 09 and 10. When he debuted, in 2011 against namesake Jonathan Gonzalez, he was a fresh faced 19 year old and was expected to be groomed to stardom. That certainly seemed to be the case through his first 14 bouts, in which he went 13-0-0-1 (11). Sadly though aged 22 he was pushed to far too fast and came up short against the heavy handed Giovani Segura in 2013 losing in 4 rounds. Sadly it then took him time to rebuild and his next bout of real note saw him come undone, in a notable shock, to Filipino Jobert Alvarez in 2016. That loss could have been the end of him, but instead he seemed to really knuckle down and scored notable wins over Ricardo Rodriguez, Julian Yedras and Juan Alejo Zuniga to get his first world title fight. That bout saw him give Kosei Tanaka absolute hell in a really hotly contested bout, but one that ended when Tanaka stopped him in the 7th round to retain the WBO belt. Since that loss he has gone on to biggest success, beating Saul Juarez, Armando Torres and Soto, to finally live up to the expectation of him one day becoming a world champion.
Early in his career "Bomba" lived up to nickname. He was a destructive fighter, stopping 9 of his first 10 foes, often in the first 2 rounds. He was quick, slippery, heavy handed and that scary explosive quality to him, which combined well with his high level boxing brain and amateur fundamentals. Sadly though as he stepped up it was his chain, not his skills that were letting him down. Since the loss to Alvarez however he has become a smart fighter, taking fewer risks, using his speed and skills more and being less "Bomba" and more "brainy". That change has fared well and earned him the big upset over Soto last year, but it is worth noting that he does have those explosive and heavy hands in his arsenal.
Like Gonzalez big things were long expected of Barriga, who competed at the very highest level in the amateurs, including the Olympics in 2012 and the World Amatuer Championships twice, beating Irish great Paddy Barnes in the 2011 World Championships. He also competed in the WSB, further showing his ability with wins over the likes of Bin Lu, and he got "semi-pro" experience under the AIBA Pro Boxing banner. He finally made his professional debut in 2016 and showed incredibly ability as a pure boxer whilst rising through the ranks, with a notable win in 2017 against Samartlek Kokietgym and one against Gabriel Mendoza in 2018. Sadly however Barriga would come up short in his first world title fight, losing a split decision in LA against Carlos Licona for the IBF Minimumweight title. After that loss he took 2 years out away from the ring, though one of those, 2020, was a year that saw boxing disrupted due to Covid. Since returning he has gone 2-0 (1).
In the ring Barriga is very much a sensational technical boxer. He lacks power and he can't really get opponents respect, but he is slippery as an eel, with fantastic counter punching, a great ring brain, a good work rate and great ability to control range and tempo with his feet and movement. He really is just lacking power, though if he had that he would be very much a nightmare for anyone in and around the lower weights. Technically he might be among the very best pure boxers in the sport today, but that lack of power and the lack of B+/A tier wins doesn't do him any favours and against most of the top fighters in the talent heavy Light Flyweight division he will likely need to do more than just be a sensational boxer.
Going in to this bout we're expecting an all out chess match early on, fought at hyper speed, with the two men boxing using their boxing brains. They will be out thinking each other and both will be looking to set traps, and counter traps. They will both need to get a read on the other, with both being southpaws, and it could be very much be one fo the pursist early on. For Barriga it is vital he marks a mark by the mid-way point, because unfortunately for him he has the fewer tools to turn things around .We suspect Barriga will have the early success, and he needs to. In the second half however Gonzalez will begin to mix things up more, he will begin to be more aggressive, and his power will prove to be a key factor. He might not be the "Bomba" he was touted as, but he's still got plenty of power and we expect to see that power catch the eye of the judges, and be pivotal in the second half of the bout.
After being behind by the mid-way point we expect Gonzalez to take a narrow, potentially split, decision thanks to a gritty and determined charge in the second half of a bout that starts technical but becomes a real fight in the final rounds.
Prediction - SD12 Gonzalez
World Title Previews
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